*Please excuse cross-postings*
Recently I posted a query on behalf of Jill Rafuse, Canadian Medical Association
Publications Department, regarding the usefulness of the print index in
journals. Jill has prepared a summary of the replies and I am providing
it below, for your information.
Thanks to all who responded to the question.
OSLER Support Librarian
Canadian Medical Association
Relevance of subject and author index for print journals
Online searching has prompted many publishers to ask whether the print journal's
author and subject index is still relevant, and whether it is of sufficient
value to librarians and readers to justify the expense of producing it.
Some journals have eliminated the annual/semi-annual index altogether, and
others are only posting the indices online as PDF documents.
CMAJ recently invited comments from librarians on the CANMEDLIB and MEDLIB
list-servs on the relevance of the print journal index. The response was
6 librarians said they still need a print index.
9 librarians said they don't use the print index at all.
7 librarians would prefer to have a print index, but could make do without
However, the comments were quite interesting, as these (abridged) excerpts
"If there is still a print issue, there should be a print index. We have
had too many cases of not being able to retrieve citations using the electronic
sources only... I have found and reported several incidences to the National
Library of Medicine where author name, name format or citation were not
accurate or did not reflect the actual item and did not lead to retrieval
of the article electronically. The future is not here, yet, for fast, accurate,
reliable online citation retrieval... in about 5 years, I suspect."
"Short items like obituaries are not picked up by the databases, and some
journal website searches don't pick up all their content, especially supplements.
"Print indexes are valuable, but they need to be printed with the last issue
of the volume/year."
"For all the technology, it is still faster to flip to the index in the back
if you know the year and topic than to pull up PubMed, search, then go to
the shelf or get the article online (IF your institution has activated online
"If a citation is off just a little, it's not hard to correct if one has
the volume in hand with an index."
"Journals not indexed in Medline or CINAHL are far less available - a journal
specific index helps us search those."
"Most patrons come to the journal after doing a lit search, so we rarely,
if ever, use the index."
"As long as a journal is in Medline there's no need for a paper index."
"Our small library can't afford subscriptions to many of the online databases,
so we rely on the printed index that comes with the final issue. And in
the area of complementary medicine, many of the larger databases do not
index the CAM literature sufficiently."
"We encourage all clients to use PubMed or Medline and limit to the specific
journal title rather than using the published index."
"Since the Internet, many 'essential tools' became redundant ... annual or
semi-annual indexes essentially are not essential anymore."
"The printed index is absolutely not necessary. PubMed is free."
"100% of our users locate their research through sources such as PubMed or
CABI, not the print index."
"Here's a description of our procedure for including an online-only index
in the bound paper version: 1) print the PDF index off the Web, if you have
access to it, 2) take that copy to the print shop with specially-purchased
acid-free copy paper and make a two-sided copy, 3) send that copy to the
bindery with the journal, and 4) pay extra to trim the index to the same
size as the journal."
"I don't like to bind a journal without an index and am quite happy printing
off a PDF to include in the bound volume. Don't phase out the index completely."
"As space is at a premium at our library, there is no printing out of anything
[such as a PDF of the index] in addition to the hardcopy retained."
"We'd prefer to get a print copy of the index, but we have printed out the
"I wasn't aware that some journals have stopped sending paper copies of the
indexes. We'll now have to think about possibly downloading and printing
"If the index is only produced in PDF online, are all subscribers notified
by email so they can download it if they want to."